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Smart pacifier can monitor the health of babies

Experts at Washington State University have developed a smart pacifier that may ultimately eliminate the need for invasive blood draws among babies in Newborn Intensive Care Units (NICUs). The new pacifier can continuously monitor sodium and potassium ion levels. These electrolytes are an indicator of dehydration, which is especially dangerous for infants born with health issues. 

When the researchers tested the smart pacifier on a select group of newborns, they found the monitoring results were comparable to data gained from the normal blood draws. 

“We know that premature babies have a better chance of survival if they get a high quality of care in the first month of birth,” said study co-author Professor Jong-Hoon Kim. “Normally, in a hospital environment, they draw blood from the baby twice a day, so they just get two data points. This device is a non-invasive way to provide real-time monitoring of the electrolyte concentration of babies.”

The traditional blood-draw method is not only potentially painful, but also leaves big gaps in information since the draws are usually done once in the morning and once in the evening, noted Kim.

The researchers modified a common pacifier by creating a system that samples a baby’s saliva through microfluidic channels. The saliva is naturally attracted to these channels, so no pumping system is needed. Inside of the channels, small sensors measure the sodium and potassium ion concentrations in the saliva. This data is wirelessly transmitted to the caregiver via Bluetooth.

Next, the researchers plan to make the components more affordable and recyclable. Kim said development of this device is part of a broader effort to help make NICU treatment less disruptive for their tiny patients.

“You often see NICU pictures where babies are hooked up to a bunch of wires to check their health conditions such as their heart rate, the respiratory rate, body temperature, and blood pressure. We want to get rid of those wires.”

The study is published in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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